View from Chorey-lès-Beaune, Burgundy.

t's easy to get a hang of the appellations of Burgundy. Until you start to scratch the surface, that is. There are four levels – regional, communal (or village), premier cru and grand cru. As you move up the ladder the regulations get stricter, the prices higher and – in most cases – the quality better. This far everything is just fine; it's when you dig deeper and run into all the exceptions and inconsistencies you realise that this will require some work.

  • Regional – 52% of the production
  • Village – 35.6%
  • Premier cru – 11%
  • Grand cru – 1.4%

The best way to come to terms with the 100 Burgundian appellations is to visit the region yourself. You need to get first hand experience if you want more than just a basic understanding. There is of course a risk involved; once you start you may not be able to stop. Having read Charlotte Fromont's excellent book "La Côte de Beaune au Grand Jour" with its descriptions of all the premier and grand crus on the Côte de Beaune I must admit that I am paying a more than healthy interest in the various lieux-dits. Every now and then I even find myself being occupied with lieu-dits on village or regional level. Sad, isn't it? A bit like the Burgundian equivalent of train spotting. But what can you do?

Altogether the Burgundy vines cover 27 636 hectares, which is just three percent of the whole French vignoble. At the bottom of the scale you have the regional appellations – Bourgogne rouge, Bourgogne blanc and Bourgogne rosé. Here are also the appellations where the village name, the grape variety, the production method, the region or the climat may be added to Bourgogne. In total there are 23 regional appellations in Burgundy.

  • Village name - Bourgogne Epineuil, Bourgogne Tonnerre, Bourgogne Chitry, Mâcon, Bourgogne Vézelay etc
  • Grape variety ­- Bourgogne Aligoté, Bourgogne Passetoutgrains (pinot noir and gamay)
  • Production method - Crémant de Bourgogne
  • Part of the region - Bourgogne Hautes-Côtes de Beaune, Bourgogne Côtes du Couchois, Bourgogne Côtes d'Auxerre etc
  • Climat/lieu-dit – Bourgogne Montrecul (in Dijon), Bourgogne Côte Saint-Jacques (in Joigny), Bourgogne Le Chapitre (in Chenôve), Bourgogne La Chapelle Notre-Dame (in Ladoix-Serrigny)
Bonnes-Mares and Chambolle-Musigny Premier Cru, Domaine Comte Georges de Vogüé

One step up, on village level, things are getting more restricted. While generic Bourgogne can come from large areas throughout Burgundy; a village wine is restricted to certain areas close to the village which name it bears – Chambolle-Musigny, Gevrey-Chambertin, Rully and Chablis are just a few examples. Altogether there are 44 village appellations. The most recent one is the Saint-Bris appellation surrounding the village of Saint-Bris le Vineux, just southeast of Auxerre.

For each step up yields are getting lower and the plots of land smaller. The premier crus are labelled in a similar way to the village wines; the name of the village with the addition of the words premier cru or the name of the lieu-dit. There are a total of 562 premier crus in Burgundy. Technically the premier crus are part of the village appellations, not appellations in their own right. Inside every village appellation there are a large number of plots. Some of these have consistently produced wines of higher quality and have therefore been singled out as premier crus.

Once you reach grand cru level the name of the village is gone. Instead the bottles are labelled only with the name of the grand cru – Musigny, Montrachet, Richebourg etc. All but one of the 33 grand crus are in the Côte d'Or. There are no grand crus in the Mâconnais, none in the Côte Chalonnaise and only one in Chablis. Even though one usually talks about the top shelf Chablis as if they were different appellations –­ Chablis Les Clos, Chablis Vaudésir etc – they are all part of the same appellation. The Chablis grand cru consists of seven climats – Blanchot, Bougros, Les Clos, Grenouilles, Preuses, Valmur and Vaudésir. Each of these names can be added to the label, depending on which part of the grand cru slope that produced the wine.

Domaine Chicotot, Nuits-Saint-Georges, Burgundy.

Two thirds of the grand crus are in the Côte de Nuits. Starting from the north Gevrey-Chambertin is the first village with grand cru land. All the grand crus – nine altogether – are located just south of the village. Morey-Saint-Denis is next with four grand crus, followed by Chambolle-Musigny and its Musigny and its Bonnes-Mares. Vougeot has only one, but the Clos de Vougeot covers 47.54 hectares. After Flagey-Échezeaux and Vosne-Romanée, which together has eight, the string of grand crus temporarily comes to a halt. As you head south Nuits-Saint-Georges and Prémeaux-Prissey only reach premier cru level and the communes of Comblanchien and Corgoloin are lumped together in the Côte de Nuits-Villages appellation.

Once you reach Ladoix-Serrigny at the top of the Côte de Beaune the grand crus are back. The Corton hill with its Corton and Corton-Charlemagne appellations stretches across the communes of Ladoix-Serrigny, Aloxe-Corton and Pernand-Vergelesses. Corton can be both white and red and the appellation covers, together with the Corton-Charlemagne, 152.60 hectares.

Then there is another gap before you reach the last grand crus on the Côte d'Or. Beaune, Pommard, Volnay, Monthélie and Meursault are all missing grand crus. On the border between Puligny-Montrachet and Chassagne-Montrachet you will find the five Montrachet grand crus – Bâtard-Montrachet, Bienvenues-Bâtard-Montrachet, Criots-Bâtard-Montrachet, Chevalier-Montrachet and Le Montrachet itself. Compared to Corton and Corton-Charlemagne these five appellations are tiny. Together they produce only a fraction of what the Corton hill produces. While the Cortons have an annual output of well over 800 000 bottles the five Montrachets produce just 200 000.

The basic layout of the appellations system in Burgundy may seem fairly easy to understand, if somewhat complex. To complicate things further you are confronted with a number of bottles from Gevrey-Chambertin. The one with just Gevrey-Chambertin on the label is obviously from a village appellation and Gevrey-Chambertin Lavaux-Saint-Jacques a premier cru. Chambertin is easy – a grand cru. But where do bottles such as Charmes-Chambertin or Latricières-Chambertin fit in? The double names suggest village wines, but they are in fact grand crus.

These are not the only exceptions. There are many examples all over the place. Take Les Santenots for instance, some premier cru land in Meursault. If planted with pinot noir it makes Volnay-Santenots and if planted with chardonnay it makes Meursault premier cru or Meursault Santenots.

© 2013 Ola Bergman